New guidelines were brought in earlier this month that will apply to all sentencing of health and safety manslaughter prosecutions in corporate cases. The Sentencing Council issued the changes on the 3rd of November 2015 and the updated practices highlight the importance of compliance for companies across a whole spectrum of industries.
The guidelines – which will be enforceable on all sentences passed from the 1st of February 2016 onwards, regardless of when the offence occurred – are paving the way for a new era in the world of health and safety; one in which companies both large and small will be held more responsible for any dereliction of care toward their staff.
What Changes Are Being Put In Place?
Current guidelines for sentencing health and safety offences have been under scrutiny for some time thanks to the growing dissatisfaction amongst victims and the groups that support them. Many felt that the figures used were out of touch with other fines imposed for lesser offences and that they should be more aligned with other harsher misdemeanours.
This has now been addressed, and it makes worrying reading for anyone who may be under threat from the law on this issue. Current guidelines state that a company found guilty of health and safety offences that result in death, should not normally be fined less than £100,000, and those guilty of corporate manslaughter no less than £500,000.
However, the incoming guidelines show just how out of touch these recommendations were. Now, for any firm with a turnover of £50 million and above, the penalty will be anywhere up to £10 million if found guilty of health and safety offences.
Medium sized business (classed as having a £10 to £50 million turnover) could be hit with a £4 million fine and small businesses (turnover of £2 million to £10 million) can receive penalties up to £1.6 million. Even so-called micro businesses, with a turnover of below £2 million, can expect fines up to £450,000 should they fall foul of the law on these issues.
Corporate manslaughter cases are higher still with fines anywhere up to £20 million, enforceable for larger organisations. Courts have also been advised that they can exceed these guidelines should the company in question have a turnover of over £50 million.
How Are The New Fines Judged?
Other than the size of the company, much of the assessment of what level of fine should be issued will be put down to two factors: the amount of harm caused to the individual by the offence and the level of culpability against the company.
While the level of harm may be a relatively straightforward issue, the level of culpability can be quite broad; ranging, as it does, from a deliberate breach of health and safety guidelines or a flagrant disregard for the law to a situation where the offender did not miss the specified target for health and safety in the workplace by much at all.
It is, therefore, absolutely vital that companies, regardless of size, adhere to all health and safety guidelines that are currently in place within their given industry. Professional health and safety training for all members of staff is essential in order to be in full compliance with the ever changing laws, and to avoid the commercial and reputational consequences of being found guilty of failing to do so.
Glen Hughes is the director of Zero Harm Training, who provide safety & environmental training courses across the UK and internationally.